I will be honest: the tangly, jittery, avant-garde “fanfare in an unconventional tuning” that opens Music for Michael Skrtic almost had me running for cover. Here, obviously, was another of those albums that make me feel that I don’t understand the first thing about contemporary composition. Luckily, this was about as far afield as Tom DePlonty gets on his latest release and the five remaining tracks, while employing some interesting sound-sources and built on somewhat experimental structural choices, feel more approachable. Coming out of that first track, DePlonty heads in the extreme opposite direction with “La Petit Sonnerie.” Barely audible at first and never raising above a whisper, these stretched and looped recordings of “harmonics and other mostly unconventional sounds” from the piano form a graceful drone. At eight minutes it’s the longest track here, and it’s eight fully meditative minutes. I find myself turning the volume up in order to more fully catch the slow shifts and light layering at play. And I’ll be a nice reviewer and warn you that you will jump when “On A Phrase by Brahms” leaps out of the closet at you while you’re still in your Sonnerie reverie. Backwards samples spin into a hypnotic wash. Spatial processing toward the end gives it a slightly vertiginous edge. “Flame Hand,” with just three instruments, presents a hushed palate-cleanser of sound, a surprisingly simple piece of work amidst the more challenging thoughts. “Letter and Word” churns dreamily toward the closing track, “La Grande Sonnerie,” where DePlonty creates a musical visual of the inner workings of a watch, “gears of different sizes, spinning in different directions at different speeds.” Here he heads back into more a complicated structure of intersecting tones and rhythms, recalling the first track in its glitter and clatter but possessing a more controlled character. Though the piano lines swirl around your head, there’s more of a sense of them all heading in a similar direction, the interdependency of precision clockwork.
Music for Michael Skrtic is inspired by the surrealist painting, by Mr. Skrtic, shown on its cover. Appropriately, the music here skips through several dreamscape-style concepts, taking those random-yet-connected leaps of thought our subconscious mind is prone to. DePlonty advises on his site that there are connective threads running throughout; of this I have no doubt, though it would take a more compositon-oriented mind than mine to tell you what they are. As a casual listener, once I’m past that first track (and I’ve gotten more used to it), I find the diversity of this release very engaging. DePlonty always has interesting things to say in his music, and I am always willing to listen–even if I can be a little tentative at first.
Available from Camerata.